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Six Western powers call for immediate ceasefire in Aleppo; Moscow does not rule out an agreement

December 8, 2016 at 2:39 am

Six Western powers have issued a joint statements calling for “an immediate ceasefire” in Aleppo and describing the current situation in the country as a “humanitarian disaster”.

The United States as well as Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom accused Russia and Iran of supporting the Syrian regime’s “daily bombings and artillery attacks” on Aleppo, and of “unwillingness to work for a political situation.” They further accused Russia of “blocking the UN Security Council” rendering it unable to “put an end to the atrocities.”

“The urgent need now is for an immediate ceasefire to allow the United Nations to get humanitarian assistance to people in eastern Aleppo and to provide humanitarian relief to those who have fled eastern Aleppo,” the six countries added in their statement, which was published in the UK government’s official website as well as on the French presidency’s website.

“The opposition have agreed the UN’s 4-point plan for Aleppo. The regime needs to agree the plan too,” they added, calling on Russia and Iran to “use their influence”.

They also urged “all parties in Syria” to abide by international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions.

In the joint statement, Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, Ottawa and Washington cited UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s previous remarks on “war crimes” in Syria and called for holding the perpetrators to account. They even expressed readiness to “consider additional restrictive measures against individuals and entities that act for or on behalf of the Syrian regime.”

Russia does not rule out an agreement

On its part, Russia said on Wednesday that the idea of a US-Russian agreement entailing a safe exit for armed Syrian opposition fighters is still “on the agenda.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Reuters as saying that Russian and American experts were in contact on Syria although he was not aware of plans to take the talks to a higher level.

In a conference call with reporters, Peskov added that “very few” rebels have left so far “and the majority are still there,” according to Reuters.

The United States lately said it was not participating in the Geneva talks on Syria, which were set to take place on Tuesday between US and Russian experts.  “[W]e’ re just not at a point yet where we can say that getting together to have these talks would be constructive. When we get there, we’ll do it,” the US State Department’s Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

“All I will say is that we continue to work through, both on our end as well as with Russia, on practical steps we can take to bring about a calm in the fighting,” he added.

In a related context, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that his American counterpart, John Kerry, withdrew Washington’s proposal on Aleppo. Russian news agency Sputnik quoted him as saying,”Suddenly, last night we receive from them [the United States] a message that they, unfortunately, will not be able to meet tomorrow [on Wednesday in Geneva], because they changed their minds, their document was withdrawn and now they have a new document, which… changes everything back, and again looks like an attempt to buy time in order to let militants replenish supplies and take a breath.”

But Kerry later denied this, affirming that US-Russian talks on Aleppo would continue.